He's the boss, he's a great leader – Trump hosts Orbán in friendly meeting at his Florida estate

March 09. 2024. – 10:40 AM

He's the boss, he's a great leader – Trump hosts Orbán in friendly meeting at his Florida estate
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and former US President Donald Trump, the current Republican presidential candidate, prior to their meeting at Trump's residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida – Photo: Zoltán Fischer / MTI/ Prime Minister's Press Office


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Donald Trump and a small group of his close advisers met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for about an hour on Friday evening at the former president's estate in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, CNN sources said. Orbán said he and Donald Trump were "peacemakers".

After a more informal, "social-meeting" and discussion, a tribute band entertained the guests at the estate. CNN sources described the meeting as a friendly chat without an agenda. According to a statement issued by Trump's campaign team, he met with Viktor Orbán to "discuss a wide range of issues affecting Hungary and the United States, including the paramount importance of strong and secure borders to protect the sovereignty of each nation".

In a video published on his Facebook page, Orbán said that "President Trump was a president of peace, he commanded respect around the world and thus created the conditions for peace". Orbán argued that there would be no war today if Trump were president. Besides the subject of peace, they also agreed that there is still a lot of potential in US-Hungarian economic relations. Orbán, who has often declared that he does not want to comment on other countries' elections, and has been vocal about defending sovereignty, said:

"it's up to the Americans to make their own decision, and we Hungarians have to be honest: it would be better for the world and better for Hungary if President Donald Trump returned".

Several videos of the meeting have been posted on the internet, one of which shows Orbán presenting Trump's wife Melania Trump with a large bouquet of flowers while the song "Pretty Woman" was playing. Shortly afterwards, Trump says:

"There’s nobody that’s better, smarter or a better leader than Viktor Orbán. He’s fantastic…He’s a non-controversial figure because he says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’ and that’s the end of it. Right? He’s the boss. No, he’s a great leader.”

A Biden administration official confirmed to CNN that the White House has not sent an invitation to Orbán for a meeting with President Joe Biden, nor has the Hungarian government indicated that it would like a meeting. When asked if he was concerned about the meeting between Orbán and Trump, President Biden replied, "If I'm not, you should be".

This was their third meeting

Viktor Orbán has traditionally had a tense relationship with Democratic-led US administrations; during Barack Obama's presidency for example, in 2014, the heads of several Hungarian state institutions were banned from entering the United States. However, even after he took office in January 2017, Donald Trump did not rush to embrace him, with their first meeting only taking place on 13 May 2019 at the White House. After that, they only met after Trump's re-election defeat, on 3 August 2022, when Orbán stopped by the former president's golf club in New Jersey on his way to the conservative CPAC conference in Dallas.

This time around, the Hungarian Prime Minister's programme in the US began on Thursday, when he took part in a private panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. The influential conservative foundation's president, Kevin D. Roberts, told the New York Times last year, that their main goal was to "institutionalize Trumpism". As part of this, Heritage has published a quasi-government programme called "Project 2025", which spends almost 1,000 pages detailing the steps towards an illiberal transition – from removing the limits of presidential power to a radical dismantling of the federal government, as well as a political purge of the remaining institutions. During his visit to Washington this week, Orbán did not meet with a single member of the federal government.

How Orbán campaigned his way into US politics

In America – depending on the speaker’s ideological position, either with positive or negative connotations – Orbán's Hungary is often referred to as the country of Trumpism in practice, and the Hungarian government has eagerly cultivated this image by providing scholarships, conferences and lavish hospitality for American right-wing opinion leaders. Additionally, the government has recognised that the best way to reach Donald Trump – whose ideological and administrative influence over the Republican Party has been increasing – is through unabashed flattery (a phenomenon that is well known in the United States; John Bolton, for example, was chosen as his national security adviser because he enthusiastically and persistently praised Trump's foreign policy moves on Fox News). As for the Hungarian side, the flattery has mostly been evident in repeatedly stating that

if Donald Trump had been president, Putin would not have attacked Ukraine, and if he returned to the White House, he would quickly make peace.

In a diplomatically bold move (which had no serious consequences), the Orbán government even sided with Trump in the 2020 presidential election: the government media kept Joe Biden's victory quiet for days, and then widely spread the fake news about the stolen election, which eventually led to a quasi-coup attempt on 6 January 2021.

For the moment, let us set aside how much truth there is to this notion – which Trump himself still likes to bring up – because the fact is that thanks to the Hungarian government's persistent work, Viktor Orbán has managed to keep his place in Trump's political lexicon and has become a regular reference point at his campaign events – although last fall, the Republican candidate, whose slip ups are competing with those of Joe Biden in number referred to the Hungarian prime minister as the leader of Turkey.

At the heart of Fidesz’ relationship with the American conservatives is the fact that since 2006, Fidesz has made a conscious effort to adopt as many of the principles of the hyper-competitive American democracy as possible, and after 2010 it also tried to shift the public law system towards the American two-party system. The most attractive aspect of the American model for Fidesz was that it offered the prospect of stabilizing the electorate and retaining power by adhering to the minimum criteria of the rule of law and democracy.

In addition to the tools, Fidesz' system also tends to import the themes that emerge on the American right. Such was the case with talking about gender, migrants and even painting George Soros as the boogie-man financing all things liberal. More recent political imports include the conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia – otherwise not supported by data – or the "anti-woke" sentiment, which is probably less relevant in the Hungarian context.

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